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Schein revives a memory-laden Rachmaninoff

Susannah Luthi
Special to The Aspen Times
Pianist Ann Schein and the Aspen Concert Orchestra will perform Rachmaninoff's third piano concerto tonight at the Benedict Music Tent. (Courtesy Aspen Music Festival and School)
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Fifty years ago, at age 16, Aspen Music Festival and School artist-faculty pianist Ann Schein first performed Rachmaninoff’s third piano concerto at the Peabody Conservatory of Music. The concert launched a career that has spun off from the piece Schein describes as having everything ” drama, tenderness, beauty, fire, volcanic temperament and color.

Since then, she has explored it countless times.

“I have played it in at least forty different countries,” said Schein, who will play it again for the first time in five years at tonight’s 6 p.m. with the Aspen Concert Orchestra at the Benedict Music Tent. “It’s been a great friend ” I love it in a way I cannot express in words. Each time I play it I think, ‘Am I going to play it again?’ So this summer is just a gift for me.”

When Schein was 14, her teacher, Mieczyslaw Munz, taught her the piece, “telling me it would develop my hand strength and my technique, but that I would never play it,” the pianist recalls. Rachmaninoff had dedicated the piece to Munz’s friend, Joseph Hoffman.

It took Schein more than a year to learn it.

Then, she recalls, one day Munz asked her if she would like to play it with an orchestra. And that, she says, is “what began this journey.”

Two years later, she played it at Peabody, and the next year, at age 17, she performed it for her formal concert debut, in Mexico City.

In the years since, it has traveled with her around the world. From the Mexico City concert to her many performances in London tours of the former Soviet Union to an appearance at Rio de Janeiro, Rachmaninoff’s concerto helped shape her memories and perceptions of the places and people she has encountered.

“The actual performing of [Rachmaninoff’s third] in so many different circumstances gives it experience,” she said. “And I can’t really describe that.”

It was in England that she made her first recording ” of Rachmaninoff’s third piano concerto, aptly ” and this proved to be another catalyst to her career.

“That recording was probably the most extraordinary happening,” Schein said. “It came to the ears of Arthur Rubinstein, and it interested him enough to ask me to come to meet him ” that’s how I came to spend two summers in Paris studying with him. So it was the concerto that allowed me to come into this unbelievable path.”

The path has led her through a varied and rich career of teaching, as well as performing.

In 1969, she married Earl Carlyss, former member of the Juilliard Quartet and the current director of the Advanced Quartet Studies program at Aspen. Schein herself began teaching and performing in Aspen in 1984.

She has been preparing for tonight’s performance for the past month.

“It’s a challenge for everybody involved ” all the musicians, the conductor, and the pianist,” she explained. “It’s one of the most tightly-knit textures of any concerto, perhaps the most complicated, and its lines are unending. Each performance yields something more. There’s no bottom, and as certain things fall away, other things appear.”

Performing the piece with conductor Joseph Silverstein and an orchestra of young people, is making this new experience one of “mutual excitement,” Schein said.

“I am simply grateful for every day that I am able to do this ” express this great piece. There’s just nothing like it.”


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